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Minetta Lane

Final Blog Post 12/7/11

Amidst the proverbial concrete jungle that is New York City, there is a small street that runs through Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street, known as Minetta Lane. Today, this quiet street is home to residential buildings and little traffic. The only two commercial establishments are the Minetta Tavern and Minetta Theatre; however, appearances can be deceiving. What many people are not aware of is that before this street became known for the two establishments of culture, it had a very shady and rough past.

Viele Map

Minetta Lane got its name from Dutch origins. It comes from the Dutch word Mintje Kill; ‘min’ means little, ‘kill’ means stream, literally translating into “Little Stream.” Like much of Greenwich Village, Minetta Lane had also been farmland. The path that ran alongside the stream was known as the ‘Negroes’ Causeway’ which developed into a footpath. The importance of Minetta Lane was that “partially freed” slaves could own property by paying an annual fee.

Before the influx of African Americans to the area, the Dutch had occupied Minetta Lane. However, “when the exodus from the village came, before the war, rents dropped like German marks, and the Minettas were inhabited by Negroes, ragpickers, and persons of less consequence” (1).  Minetta Lane was commonly known as “Little Africa” for the large amount of African-Americans that resided in the area. The amount of crime present on the street likely stemmed from the problems at near-by establishments in the surrounding blocks. Furthermore, the area was poor; many overcrowded tenement buildings lined the streets. The crime that went on between the residents and the police was well-documented and can be found in old newspapers articles as well as works of fiction.

         After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which granted freedom to slaves, a large number of the “14,083 freed African Americans lived in this area.” (2). The old farm paths officially became Minetta Lane and Minetta Street. The newly freed slaves who migrated from the south joined the already large African-American population. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the trouble began.

         In the early 20th century, the most active area of prostitution in the Village was on Minetta Street and Minetta Lane. There were many brothels in the neighborhood, which bred disease and did little to help Minetta Lane rid itself of crime and its reprehensible reputation. Further adding to issues on the street were the many Black and Tan saloons that opened along Minetta Lane and the surrounding “Little Africa” area. These bars provided intermingling between white and black people, and were look down upon and seen as immoral. For instance, once the Golden Swan bar opened up on Sixth Avenue, things around Minetta Lane took a downward turn. The bar had a “hard-core following among neighborhood people and stayed open all hours, fights broke out regularly.” By creating a location for unseemly people to gather and drink alcohol, Minetta Lane and the surrounding streets became grounds for fights and violence. Jacob Riis documented the activities in the Black and Tan saloons in his famous book, “How the Other Half Live” which was published in 1896. The book contained images Riis had taken all across the city highlighting the unsanitary and dire conditions of tenement housing. This eye-opening look provided the middle class and wealthy citizens a glimpse into how the other half actually did live.

Inside of a Black and Tan Saloon

     The newspapers of the late 19th century constantly featured African Americans in the crime section of the newspaper. One such example was  Nicholas Brown, described as “colored,” who was arrested for stealing money. Most articles used the term ‘colored’ as a way of describing African Americans, clearly as a way of highlighting the difference in skin color. The next incident was an example of the police force targeting an African American citizen unnecessarily. An older woman, Dora Lane, was featured in the crime blotters for attacking a police officer after he tried to force her off her neighbor’s stoop. She was not doing anything wrong or unlawful and was not a vagrant or causing a ruckus. She was simply sitting on her neighbor’s stoop instead of her own. As a result of the officer asking her to move, Lane tore off the officer’s shield, bit his cheek, and acted disrespectfully towards him. She was later acquitted of second-degree assault.

Minetta Lane was a scary place, where even the most hardened criminals became uneasy. The notoriety of the street came alive in Stephen Crane’s fictitious short story “Minetta Lane,” where he detailed what it took to get a reputation in the area. According to Crane, “in those days a man was obliged to commit a number of furious crimes, and no celebrity was more important than the man who had a good honest killing to his credit.” As Crane noted in the story, if a sailor or anybody else who looked like they had money was to walk down the street, they were lucky if they left with their teeth. The street was populated with the most brutal criminals, and was infamously described as “enthusiastically murderous.” Some of the nicknames given to the most hardened criminals on the street included “Bloodthirsty,” “No-Toe Charley,” and “Black-Cat” These men were known for their murderous ways; Bloodthirsty for his trademark razor; No-Toe Charley ended up in Sing-Sing; Black-Cat for praying on the elderly. This street was a place that if a police officer were chasing a criminal who ran down Minetta Lane, he would rather let the criminal go than chase him down that notorious street.

Basement of a bar

Crane ended the story by providing an interesting reflection:   “Minetta Lane is a place of poverty and sin, but these influences cannot destroy the broad smile of the Negro–a vain and simple child, but happy. They all smile here, the most evil as well as the poorest. Knowing the Negro, one always expects laughter from him, be he ever so poor, but it was a new experience to see a broad grin on the face of the devil.”

Minetta Lane in the 20th century

While it is important to keep in mind that this story is a work of fiction, there are some parallels that could be applied to  Minetta Lane.  The entire city during the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century was wrought with corrupt politicians, despicable living conditions in tenement housing, and rampant poverty and crime. To pinpoint all vicious activity to Minetta Lane would be unfair; to that end, it is important to understand that Minetta Lane was known as a place to be avoided even during the daytime.

The street has a come a long way since those dark times. Once Theodore Roosevelt became police commissioner, things began to shape up. Crime was targeted and police patrol was increased. In 1986 Stephen Crane revisited the area and said “There is probably no street in New York where the police keep closer watch than they do in Minetta Lane.” Furthermore, Vincent Pepe undertook the overhauling of buildings on the street. He bought up many old tenements and transformed them into new houses.  Many of the original African American population moved out of the Village and Minetta Lane, and the area soon became popular  for Italian immigrants to settle down. “The most drastic change in African American population was from 1910 to 1920, when the population went from 1,300 to just 600” (5).

The next time you amble down Minetta Lane, or use it as a shortcut between 6th Avenue and MacDougal, think about the rich history of the area. Colson Whitehead said it best in  “The Colossus of New York”: “Everybody remembers the city. Some people the city remembers” (8). In this case, it is safe to say that while people may always treasure their time spent in one of the greatest cities in the world, the stories of Bloodthirsty, No-Toe Charley, and Black-Cat, have faded into the past.  There is no visible trace left of the former Minetta Lane. The buildings have been remodeled into high price residences and the streets are lined with gentle trees. While this area in the Village is one of the safest  in the city, a little more than a hundred years ago it was plagued with vicious crime. New York City  has come a long way from the original Dutch settlers who began transforming this island to what we know it to be today.

Works Cited:

1.“Minettas of Greenwich Patchworked Streets.” Los Angles Times,  May 21 1924.

2. Callahan, Maria. “CITY LORE; Minetta Moments.” New York Times 30 Jan 2005

3.“Admitting Bigamy.” New York Tribune , September 2, 1881.

4. “A Policeman too Officious.” New York Times, December 4, 1888.

5. McFarland, Gerald W. Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City Neighborhood, 1898-1918.

6. Crane, Stephen. “Minetta Lane.” Published 1896. readbooksonline.com

7. Riis, Jacob. “The Color Line in New York,” in How the Other Half Live. Published 1890. Bartleby.com;

8.Colson, Whitehead. “The Colossus of New York: Broadway”

Photographs: 1:scoutingny.com; Jacob Riis; masters of photography.com;  New York Public Library

Entry #1: Welcome to Minetta Lane

Street sign on Minetta Lane

Minetta Lane is a quaint and quiet street located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It is a small street that runs sotheast -northwest connecting  6th avenue and Macdougal Street. During the 17th century, when the Dutch were settling the area, Minetta Lane had a small stream that ultimately flowed into the Hudson River. The origin of the street name Minetta Lane was once thought to be from the Indians, however according to Guido Bruno in an article published in the New York Times in May of 1915, Minetta Lane actually had a Dutch origin. He states, “The Dutch word ‘Min’ implies littleness. By the addition of the favorite pet suffix ‘tje’ the name ‘Mintje’ was coined, just as we would say ‘the little one.’” Therefore, what came to be known as Minetta Lane was formerly known as ‘the little creek’. Today, the stream that once gave Minetta Lane its name no longer flows through this street.

In another article found in the New York Times published in early 2005 by Maria Callahan, Minetta Lane was also known as “Little Africa” due to it being the home of many freed African-Americans. The stream that ran through the street came to be known as “the Negroes’ Causeway” because “a path developed from the foot traffic that followed the stream” (Callahan).  The article goes on to say that at the turn of the 20th century, “the Minettas, with their speakeasies, knifings and brothels, had a dreadful reputation” (Callahan). Clubs known as “black and tans” afforded African-Americans and Caucasians the opportunity to mingle, further degrading the reputation of the area. Over time Minetta Lane underwent vast improvements both in safety and sanitation. Vincent Pepe was responsible for turning the slums and tenement style housing into suitable living whereby the large African
American population started to leave their residences and move elsewhere.

View down Minetta Lane

Minetta Lane is lined with historic establishments that have survived the test of time, such as the Minetta Tavern, which is located on the corner of Minetta and Macdougal Street. The restaurant was opened in 1937 and counted their usual
patrons to include Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, and Ezra Pound. Another historic building found on Minetta Lane is the Minetta Lane Theatre, which holds almost 400 seats. This institution is considered to have some of the best off-Broadway plays in the city, such as The Flying Karamazov Brothers and The Last Five Years.

My trip to Minetta Lane opened my eyes to the rich history of the area. Among all the hustle and bustle of daily life in New York City, this street felt almost misplaced. There were hardly any people enjoying the reprieve from the constant
chaos. On this tree-lined street I could almost picture how it looked so many years ago. The immense change of Minetta Lane from former slums to a hangout of the great writers of the 20th century shows what a diverse city Manhattan can truly be.

Apartment building on Minetta Lane

Sources

All photos: Lauren Russo

Bruno, Guido. “Finds Dutch Origin for Minetta Lane.” New York
Times 21 May 1915. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F60916FA385C13738DDDA80A94DD405B858DF1D3

Callahan, Maria. “CITY LORE; Minetta Moments.” New York Times 30 Jan 2005. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A02EEDD143BF933A05752C0A9639C8B63&pagewanted=all

Minetta Lane Entry #2 (9/21/11)

My discovery at Minetta Lane-- right under my feet!

As I went back to Minetta Lane in search of a sign or billboard, I realized it would be no easy feat. Minetta Lane is a residential area mostly void of advertisements. The one large sign I came across was for the new TV show “Person of Interest.” I wasn’t satisfied with this so I kept walking up and down the street until I found something I felt was worthy of being blogged about. I walked down to the Minetta Green Park to see if I changed my vantage point of the street I would be able to find some inspiration. When I looked down for a minute, I finally had an idea. Instead of writing an entry on a piece of text from my street, I would dedicate this entry to a piece of text on my street.

          Minetta Green Park is located on the corner of Minetta Lane and 6th Avenue. Although not an official memorial park, it pays tribute to the river that once ran through the street. According to the Park Odyssey Blog, there are even fish etched into the cement. These represent the trout that the Minetta Brook had once been filled with.The stream that once flowed through the street is long gone and now paved over with concrete (Straightening out the Minettas).

Etchings of the trout that could once be found in Minetta Brook

The park is a tiny piece of land, about .056 acres (nycgovparks.org). There is a gate to protect the sanctity of the land as soon as the sun sets as well as serving to prevent any delinquent activities from occurring at night. It is paved with white stones and winds through the small plot of land. The central feature is a large carved- stone planter overflowing with flowers. Furthermore, in order to give the park more interesting topographical features, small mounds were built “to add interest to the previously flat landscape and create more of a pastoral setting” (nycgovparks.com).

A glimpse into Minetta Green Park

In 1934 the Board of Transportation gave the Department of Parks legal rights to turn the piece of land into a park. Mayor Vincent Impellitteri commissioned Robert Moses to develop the park. Later on in 1953, the Board of Estimate
assigned the land to the Parks (nycgovparks.org). Trees, shrubs, and plants were all brought in to further enhance the area. In 1998, “the City Council and the Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields funded the $742,000 reconstruction of Minetta Green and two other nearby parks, Churchill Square and Minetta Square” (nycgovparks.org).

The Minetta Green Park was unfortunately empty on such a clear, crisp day. I thought that people would be flocking to such a great park, although I can understand that on a weekday at 3:30 people would probably still be at work or in school. I look forward to visiting the park again as soon as autumn beings and watching the leaves change colors.

Sources

www.nycgovparks.org

http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/2011/04/minetta-green-and-minetta-triangle.html

http://www.walkingoffthebigapple.com/2009/03/straightening-out-minettas.html

Photographs: 1 & 3: Lauren Russo; 2: Park Odyssey Blog

Walking on Minetta Lane      (9/28/11)

As I walked from Mercer Street to Minetta Lane to take myweekly pictures for this blog, I couldn’t help but pay extra close attention to all the other pedestrians. Once at Minetta Lane, I was ready to assess the types of people I saw. Were they tourists? Local residents? What items did theyhave in their hands—groceries or shopping bags? What were their stories?

           Man walking in the center of Minetta Lane In “Walking in the City,”  Michel de Certeau chronicles everyday walking in cities (in an urban context). As Brian Morris says about Certeau’s work, “Initially, that discussion of memory is framed within narratological and semiotic terms; that is, walking is a signifying practice that enables narrative entries and exits, opportunities ‘for going away and coming back’, an opening up of space ‘to something different,’ a personal story” (1).  As this statement suggests, when a person takes a walk, certain spots may remind them of places or memories. For example, when I was walking up and down Minetta Lane I saw the apartment buildings and was instantly reminded of Hayden Hall, my freshman dorm. Minetta lane gives off a very homey, close-knit community type of vibe. As a freshman coming to school in a big (and often intimidating) city, having a cozy place to call home certainly helped me make a smooth transition to life in the city.

Woman texting on the sidewalk

If it is the “ ‘turns’ and ‘detours’“ of the walker thattransform place into space,” then Minetta Lane is the perfect detour (1). The street is short; it holds two main attractions, the Minetta Lane Tavern and the Minetta Lane Theatre. Other than at night, the street remains mostly void ofpeople. Before I went to take my walk in the afternoon, I visited the street in the morning. It was about 8:45 when I went, and I can honestly say that there was one man walking alone on the street. I didn’t think it was an especially good idea to walk up Minetta Lane since it was so empty and quiet, so I realized it was better to return in the afternoon.

Couple walking down Minetta Lane

When I returned in the afternoon, I saw a couple walking in the middle of the road from the West 4th Subway station up towards Bleeker, cutting through Minetta Lane. The next woman I saw was walking up the street, from 6th Avenue, while texting on her phone. Although she was on the sidewalk and the street is usually void of automobile traffic, I don’t think texting while walking is the best idea. Judging by that action, I think she was walking back from work and was familiar with the area. The last person
I saw while people watching was a young man. He was probably in his mid-to-late twenties wearing rock and roll style clothes– complete with a leather jacket and classic blue jeans. Oddly enough, he chose to walk in the middle of the street as well. From the pattern I’ve been seeing, it seems that there are rarely cars on this street so people know it is okay to walk in the middle of the street. I feel like by focusing less on a particular aspect of the street and more on the people who walked the street, I was able to learn more about the personality of the street.

Sources:

1.) Morris, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Walking in the City”

Pictures: All photographs by Lauren Russo

Post 10/4/11

I believe the two most frequent topics that come up while thinking about Minetta Lane is the amount of African-American residents living on the street and the effects and adjustments of living on a street where a river once flowed. There was a  large African-American population living on the street (as mentioned in my first blog post, Minetta Lane was known as ‘Little Africa’). The articles I found about African-Americans  choose to use the adjective “colored” when describing them. It is interesting to note that the articles I reference are written after 1863, which is the year when former President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing all remaining slaves in the United States. I was surprised and frankly disappointed that there was still a very separated view of black and white from a northern newspaper like the New York Times.

A wrought iron door evoking Minetta Lane's rich past.

Before the large influx of African Americans, Dutch aristocracy occupied Minetta Lane (1). “When the exodus from the village came, before the war, rents dropped like German marks, and the Minettas were inhabited by Negroes, ragpickers, and persons of less consequence” (1). Minetta Lane was known throughout the city as “Rag Picker’s alley” (1). Furthermore, the second article I found was published in May of 1876 and contains one simple sentence about Minetta Lane: “Minetta Lane is populated entirely by colored people” (2).  Interestingly enough, the article seemed to be entirely made up of single sentences about relevant news—the sentence after was about how furs can still be worn due to the cool weather of the month (2). In a crime blotter section of the newspaper, it states that “Nicholas Brown, colored, of Minetta Lane, was a prisoner of Yorkville Court yesterday” for sneakily stealing money from a public establishment (3). The blurb says that he was caught with $25 and held for further “examination by Justice Patterson” (3). To me, these articles speak to the time period when they were published. Although living in the free north, African-Americans were still not viewed as equals. They were subject to discrimination by the police department as well as by other citizens of the city. One such example of being treated too harshly was the account given to the New York Times by a police officer who was attacked by Dora Lane, (again described as a “colored woman”) from Minetta Lane, who was accused of “tearing off the officers shield, biting him on the cheek, and showing him marked disrespect” (4).  The incident was a result of Lane sitting on a neighbors stoop and refusing the officers order to move over to the next stoop in front of her own house (4). In a triumph of the legal system, this woman was acquitted of second-degree assault.

An interesting juxtaposition of of an old building facade style on the bottom and a modern, refined style on the top.

The Second topic would be urban city-dwellers learning to coexist with the former Minetta Stream. One such article that deals with living along a stream appeared in the October 1883 New York Times. It is about a disgruntled resident complaining about his cleaning supplies, which he stores in his basement, growing a mysterious mold. Something new I learned in this article was that Minetta Stream was 12 feet wide (5). This man in the article had never known that there had been a stream under his building on Minetta Lane. The second article is about the difficulties of constructing apartments on Minetta Lane due to having to deal in some way with the stream. The street itself is described as “an obscure and dirty by-way” (6). This article was published before the stream was filled with concrete, as  it is described as “the surviving local monument of the limpid sparkling brook that was fed by a score of springs that still manage occasionally to protest against extinction” (6).

Old world charm is evident on the building numbers.

Before ending this post, I would like to try and tie it back to one of our class readings, “Envisioning Urban Histories: Bristol as
palimpsest, postcards, and snapshots” by M. Crang. As Crang uses the word palimpsest, he alludes to “the accretion of historical events and processes which accumulate to bear silent witness to the passage of time—producing a landscape on which history inscribes itself as a process of addition, amendment, and perpetual alteration” (7). The street is rich with history; over its course it has had families from both ends of the socioeconomic brackets residing there. I would say the quote from the reading is best exemplified in the transition of Minetta Lane from being inhabited by wealthy Dutch aristocrats to becoming known as “Rag Pickers Alley.” The street underwent many physical changes, like trying to pour cement in order to fill up Minetta Stream as well as re-modeling the building structures into multi-family dwellings. Crang dwells on the role that photography plays in chronicling the life of a street and how it is one of upmost importance. There would be no other way to permanently capture a moment in time without the aid of a camera.

Sources

(1)“Minettas of Greenwich Patchworked Streets.” Los Angles Times,  May 21 1924.

(2)
“Home News: Thermometer Yesterday at Hudnut’s, In Broadway Prominent
Arrivals New-York City Brooklyn Jersey City Newark New Jersey Long Inland
Staten Island Hudson River Counties.” New York Tribune, May 4th 1876.

(3)
“Admitting Bigamy.” New York Tribune , September 2, 1881.

(4)
“A Policeman too Officious.” New York Times, December 4, 1888.

(5) “Following under the City: Disease and Dampness Marking an old Stream’s
Course.” New York Times, October 28, 1883.

(6)
“A Living Spring in New York City.” San Francisco Tribune, September 2,
1891.

(7)
Crang, M. “Envisioning Urban Histories: Bristol as palimpsest, postcards, and snapshots.”

All pictures: Lauren Russo

Entry for 10/17/11

Cobblestone streets on Minetta Lane

While learning about the various resources available for this blog post, I came across what I believe to be an absolute gold mine of vintage, historical pictures from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. In total, there are 14 photographs collected between the 1870’s- 1970’s featuring Minetta Lane (1). The photographs depict Minetta Lane during the early turn of the 20th century. The street was made of cobblestone while the buildings were built in a typical tenement style. The two other pictures that I thought best represented the street show Minetta Lane looking onto 6th Aveune and Bleeker Street looking down at Minetta Lane.

Minetta Lane looking towards 6th Ave

The Sanborn Maps were an interesting resource to explore. Minetta Lane is such a small street that I did not find a map with the street, however I did find a roster of warehouses that included Bleeker Street. Mr. Henry I. Steler Inc.
owns two warehouse properties on  Bleeker Street, which Minetta Lane is off of. (2)

Index from the Sanborn Maps of Warehouses

While looking at the information about the census, published in Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City Neighborhood, 1898-1918 by Gerald W. McFarland, a definite trend of residents leaving the area emerges. The village federal census figures for 1910 show that “the Village had a population of 124,603 and more than 55,000 of whom were foreign-born and nearly 48,000 more of who were native-born children of immigrants.” (3)

This figure only further demonstrates that Minetta Lane and the surrounding areas were highly populated by non-native Dutch. The area was known as a slum and was considered to be dangerous. Due to previous research about Minetta Lane and the large African American population that lived on the street, I am focusing my research specifically on that ethnic group.

In a census taken in 1900, the information “indicated that the mixed-race and black families of Minetta Lane laid claim to a significant degree of stability in their marital relationships” (3). The area boasted that of all the couples living on the street, all but one was living with their significant other from their first marriage. Furthermore, in the 1900 census it states that many of the residents “were native southerners who had joined in a post-Civil War exodus of African Americans from the former Confederacy” (3)

The 1910 census gives specific details about the African American population and says “it had been characterized by constant turnover but by relatively stable total numbers which varied from 1,200 to 1,600 (3). The most drastic change in African American population was from 1910 to 1920, when the population went from 1,300 to just 600” (3). By that time, “only three Negro blocks remained of an enclave that had once been much larger”.

Bleeker Street looking towards Minetta Lane

I was able to locate information about the 1920 census, as published in a special New York Times Streetscapes piece. Instead of just numbers as a representation of people, the names and information about the residents of the street was also included. Some of the information includes that “the house at 1 Minetta Lane had five households and the three households at 3 Minetta Lane included a chauffeur, a trucker and a hotel clerk” (4). For instance, this article   has detailed information about Minetta Lane residents Lewis Bellano, 28, his wife, Mabel Bellano, 22, and their two sons, Edward and Lewis, 5 and 6. This family emigrated from Italy, like many of the non-native Dutch living on the street at the time. Lewis worked as a garage mechanic while Mabel was a dishwasher. (4). Other residents included in the 1920 census were: Mary Davis, from Ireland, a Swiss baker, an Italian hotel porter, and a German butcher.

In conclusion, during this research, I realized that it was more difficult to locate Minetta Lane on many of the maps becuase the street is so small. However, I was lucky enough to locate the census reports for 3 censuses over a 30 year period which I believe provided more valuable insight about the types of people living on the street as well as the numerical figures of those people.

Photographs: 1,2,&4: New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Photograph #3 Sanborn.

(1)  New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

(2)  Sanborn Maps. New York City Maps, 1919. Index Sheet.

(3)  McFarland, Gerald W. Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City Neighborhood, 1898-1918.

(4)  Gray, Christopher. “Streetscapes/ Minetta Lane and Minetta Street; Vestiges of a Developer’s Greenwich Village Enclave.” New York Times, 29 Aug 1999.

Post for 10/19/11     Minetta Lane in Fiction

A 21st century apartment buliding that is a far cry from the builidings of the turn of the 19th century

At first, I figured it would be incredibly difficult locating books that mentioned little Minetta Lane. I was ready to undertake the enormous task of looking for the words “Minetta Lane” in every book until I had that gratifying moment of “Ah ha! There it is! This is about my street!” At this point in our assignments, I feel a personal connection to Minetta Lane; when I walk along the street I think about all that I have learned about this seemingly small stretch of road in the giant metropolis that is New York City. In this week’s reading on fiction, one statement from Colson Whitehead’s “The Colossus of New York” really resonated with me: “Everybody remembers the city. Some people the city remembers” (1). This made me think about how different people walk along Minetta Lane daily and yet don’t remember it because there is nothing exactly memorable about it. They would remember their trip into the city as a whole, yet their short time spent walking on Minetta Lane would fade into the larger picture. My goal in finding the perfect passage in a fiction book was to show that Minetta Lane does have its own story and is so rich with history that many people never have a chance to see.

Although there were two viable options to choose from for this fiction assignment, the first being The
Enchanted Canyon
by Honore Morrow and the second being Maggie, Girl of the Streets, and Other New York Writings by Stephen Crane, I ultimately decided to blog about the second novel. Stephen Crane’s most famous work was Red Badge of Courage, however his novel Maggie, Girl of the Streets was also well-known. He texts are all  reflective of the era: honest and straightforward about the conditions real people were living in.  I chose the
following passage to focus on:

Maggie, Girl of the Streets

“There is probably no street in New York where the police keep closer watch than they do in Minetta Lane. There was a time when the inhabitants had a profound and reasonable contempt for the public guardians, but they have it no longer, apparently. Any citizen can walk through there at any time in perfect safety unless, perhaps, he should happen to get too frivolous. To be strictly accurate, the change began under the reign of Police Captain Chapman. Under Captain Groo, the present commander of the Fifteenth precinct, the Lane has donned a complete new garb. Its denizens brag now of its peace, precisely as they once bragged of its war. It is no more a bloody lane. The song of the razor is seldom heard. There are still toughs and semi-toughs galore in it, but they can’t get a chance with the copper looking the other way. Groo has got the poor old Lane by the throat. If a man should insist on becoming a victim of the badger game, he could probably succeed upon search in Minetta Lane, as indeed, he could on any of the great avenues, but then Minetta Lane is not supposed to be a pearly street in Paradise”  (2).

While the passage I chose was not actually Maggie, it was a short story within the larger novel with many of the same feelings as Maggie. The short story, “When A Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers,” is better suited for this assignment, as the story takes place entirely on Minetta Lane. This piece plays into the rich history of Minetta Lane—although not all good, this story is accurate of the area of the time period, which is set in the mid-to-late 19th century. The passage I chose exemplifies the upturn of the reputation of the street; where once walking on the street would be putting yourself in a precarious position now the street is patrolled by the police who keep a close eye on it. The phrase “the song of the razor” paints such a detailed picture of alluding to the crimes that had been committed on the street not long ago. The last sentence about Minetta Lane not being “a pearly street in Paradise” is very thought provoking. Given the history of Minetta Lane, it could be that Minetta Lane isn’t some idyllic street in “Paradise” (which is open to interpretation to the reader as to what they see paradise to be).

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

This specific work of fiction also illustrates an important
part of the particularities of cities, specifically the speech used. In Alan R. Soltkin’s “You as a Multileveled
Dictional Devices in Stephen Crane’s Representation of Bowery Dialect in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” we see
the importance of using the right wordage to give the reader an genuine feeling of the location. As mentioned earlier, although “When A Man Falls, A Crowd Gathers,” is not Maggie, I believe that because the locations are so close, the dialectic information would be applicable to this as well.  As cited in the article, “Crane’s use of this ‘tough’ dialect of New York City’s Bowery develops as Crane’s fiction develops from sketch to novel” (3). The area of the Bowery, which included Minetta Lane, was known to be a dangerous area filled with crime. The significance of Crane providing authenticity in Maggie is invaluable because instead of simply telling us about the native population living in the Bowery, Crane puts the readers at the scene and shows us and lets us imagine that we are present in the story alongside the characters. Clearly, “the Bowery dialect in Maggie is not just a foil to the standard language of New York City, but rather has become the standard dialect” (3).

The importance of fiction to represent different areas of New York City is key in seeing how other people, particularly authors who have an incredible way with words, view the city.  The reason I chose the passage I did was because I believe it paints an accurate picture of Minetta Lane. It touches on the issue of crime on the street as well as the beginning of moving forward to eradicating the danger of the street. This paragraph was focused on the future and what potential Minetta Lane has to grow rather than dwelling on past incidents.

Pictures: #1: Lauren Russo, #2: Tower Books, #3: pbs.org

(1) Colson, Whitehead. “The Colossus of New York: Broadway”

(2)  Crane, Stephen. Maggie, Girl of the Streets, and other New York Stories.

(3) You as a Multileveled Dictional Device in Stephen Crane’s Representation of Bowery Dialect in “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” Alan R. Slotkin. South Central Review. Vol. 7, No. 2, Linguistics and Literature (Summer, 1990) pp. 40-53.

MINETTA IN THE MOVIES

Post for 10/26/11

The famous Minetta Tavern

Minetta Lane is the perfect  location for a film set in New York City. It is a short street, which is quiet to begin with, that can be easily closed  between 6th Avenue and Bleeker Street. Important attributes of Minetta Lane that appeal to film makers include the historic Tavern, located on the corner of Minetta and MacDougal; the cleanliness of the street; and the lack of noise, perfect for shooting scenes with important dialogue between characters.

New York City is arguably one of the most popular locations for movies, however a majority of movies set in New York are not actually filmed there. Due to budget constraints, the movies filmed elsewhere and made to seem like they are located in New York City. In Steve Pile’s “The Problem of London, or, How to Explore the Moods of the City,” London and New York City, as well as many famous cities around the world, share special universal landmarks that citizens from around the globe can recognize, such as Big Ben or the Empire State Building. When these landmarks are featured in films, it becomes necessary to include shots of the exterior of the buildings, even if the interior shots come from sound stages or different cities. As the chapter says, “this short chapter is about these journeys through London; journeys that are, we can say, emblematic of city life in the way that they mark particular trajectories in space and time” (1). Applying that statement to New York City, it is clear that the landmarks are time bound media, meaning that they are particular to the area and can not be easily transported to other locations. These iconic structures give the city its notoriety and set it apart from any where else in the world.

One movie filmed on Minetta Lane was Sleepers, staring Kevin Bacon, Robert DeNiro, and Brad Pitt. It was released in 1996 and is about a group of friends who play a joke on somebody  that lands them in jail. While in jail, they are pushed to their limits by guards who take advantage of them psychologically and sexually. The movie chronicles the lives of boys after being released and their quest for revenge on the men who “stole their innocence.” The movie is narrated by Lorenzo, also known as “Shakes” who was a part of the group of boys sentenced to time in jail. At the end of the movie, we find out that two out of the four boys didn’t live past 30 years old, while one other fled to England, leaving Shakes as the only remaining member in New York City.  (2)

The scene in the movie that occurs on Minetta Lane takes place at the Minetta Tavern, before it was re-modeled. The boys are all seen entering and staying for a group dinner in the restaurant, the last time they are shown together in the film. Another movie that includes Minetta Tavern is Mickey Blue Eyes, released in 1999. This movie stars Hugh Grant, who gets involved with the mob because of his girlfriend’s father, who is a mob boss. The encounter at Minetta Tavern includes his girlfriend’s father and his accomplices dining at the restaurant. (3)

Screen Shot from Sleepers

The historic Minetta Lane Tavern is crucial in both movies as it provides the movies with a well-known landmark
that the viewers could actually leave the theater and as eat there just like the characters they saw on screen. As discussed in class with Sex and the City and its relationship to Magnolia Bakery, the Minetta Lane Tavern is a real location that transcends the movie to reality. Minetta Lane Tavern serves as a meeting spot that invites conversation between the characters in both films. The restaurant has an old-time charm, which includes rich wood colored chairs and an ambiance that makes you feel as if it is just you and your companions in the restaurant. The ambiance of the restaurant is reminiscent of New York in the 1920’s when gangsters ruled and speakeasies were popular.

The other movie I found that was filmed on Minetta Lane was the movie Carlito’s Way. Released in 1993, it followed a former convict who is released from jail, who promised not to return to his old ways. This unfortunately does not last long, and Carlito quickly returned back to his gangster ways that included a life filled with gangs, drugs, and violence (4) . According to IMDB.com, the apartment where Carlito’s girlfriend Gail lived is located at 5-7 Minetta Lane.(5)

Gail's apartment in Carlito's Way

I felt like this movie lacked some of the qualities that Sleepers had. Sleepers intertwined the stories of different boys while with Carlito’s Way I felt like there was less depth. Sleepers struggled with ethical implications and robbing young men of their childhoods while Carlito’s Way was more straightforward about the grim realities of the world.

Filming Permit

I found a sign from a movie shoot that occured on one of my visits to Minetta Lane. It was for a film called “Modern Love,” which I found out is an existing movie. Because this movie were released before the shoot date on the sign, I can infer that this specific adaptation of “Modern Love” has not been released yet.

Sources

1.) Pile, “The Problem of London”

2.) Sleepers. Dir. Barry Levinson. Universal. 1996.

3.) Mickey Blue Eyes. Dir. Kelly Makin. Castle Rock Entertainment. 1999.

4.) Carlito’s Way. Dir. Brian De Palma. Universal. 1993.

5.) IMDB.com

Pictures: 1,3,4: Lauren Russo; 2: OnTheSetofNewYork.com

NIGHT ON MINETTA    11/2/11

New York City at night conjures up images of certain activities—things that would never be done during the day. The reason for this is that the night provides us with a sort of protection; the darkness shrouds our true identity that can be seen so well in the daylight. It protects us from vulnerability, embarrassment, and sometimes even hurt: the spotlight that daylight casts on us seems to fade during the night. When we go out into the big city at night, sometimes we find new experiences and opportunities where and when we least expect them. As Joachim Schlor says in Nights in the Big City, “Pedestrian investigation of the city demands an understanding of all the possibilities offered by going astray, and above all it demands patience” (1). Perhaps the idea of possibility is the most important aspect of being in the city at night; if we keep our minds open to going off the beaten path then we can be introduced to new adventures.

Minetta Lane Tavern and Cafe Wha at night

Minetta Lane at night is a different place than Minetta Lane during the day. As Schlor says, “the image of the street changes with its functions” (1). It seems that Minetta Lane sleeps during the day, only to be awake and full of life at night. During the day, the restaurant, club, and theater are empty but once the clock strikes a certain hour and the sun is tucked away, the street suddenly fills with people. At night, people flock to Minetta Theater to watch the current performance at the theater, Standing on Ceremony. The theater at night comes alive; during the day it looks like any other unassuming building with a plain exterior, the only giveaway indicating that it is a theater is the small marquee on top. The theater provides people not only with entertainment but also with the idea of a sophisticated night in New York City. The short length of Minetta Lane allows for the Theater to take center stage and provide an intimate feeling to street, partly because besides for the Tavern and Café Who on the corners, it is the only commercial business on the block.

Cafe Wha's sign of consideration to their neighbors

Café Wha, on the corner of Minetta and MacDougal, becomes a musical party once the sun sets and the night really begins. The party at Café Wha starts late and ends even later! Each night of the week features a different house band, and the locals know that this club is the place to be. It has the authentic Village feel and certainly does not feel like they “sold out” to become a commercialized venue. Famous celebrities are known to join in with THE band and hang out with the regular crowd. While Minetta Tavern has a more sophisticated menu, Café Wha offers classic bar food to enhance the low-key, casual atmosphere. In the time that I spent on the street however, I only saw a few people enter since it was not considerably late in the evening, and some bands don’t even perform until 11! (2)

Probably the most crowded place on all of Minetta Lane is the Minetta Tavern. While during the day the restaurant is surrounded by trucks unloading various cartons of food and beverages, at night it is transformed. The restaurant emits a soft, glowing candle light from the windows that invites guests in. Unfortunately, the restaurant can not accommodate everyone that would like to dine there; reservations are hard to come by. Once dinner time has started, the crowds of people flock to the tavern. Autumn is the perfect time on Minetta Lane; the early darkness lures people into the warm and romantically lit restaurant.

Spooky look into the side door at Cafe Wha

If people are not going to one of the three attractions on Minetta Lane, then they are walking through it to get to 6th Avenue or Bleeker Street. Just as darkness sets in, the street becomes even quieter, and the silence is almost eerie. Although Minetta Lane is a quiet residential street for the most part, there were not many people entering their buildings. Nighttime on Minetta Lane affords people the opportunity to experience the night life NYC has to offer without being overwhelmed.

Sources:

(1) Schlor, Joachim. “Night in the Big City”

(2) www.cafewha.com

Pictures: #1: GastroChic blog, #2&3: Lauren Russo

As Seen on TV (on Minetta Lane!) 11/9/11

16 Minetta Lane with ivy growing out of the windows!

This week’s reading, “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City,” by William J. Sadler and Ekaterina V. Haskins was about how the portrayal of New York City affects tourists. The article says, “critical urbanists and cultural geographers have been exploring the relationship between urban planning, tourism, and entertainment for some time” (196). Applying the previous statement to Minetta Lane, one would be hard-pressed to find it relevant. Minetta Lane does not boast much tourism, except for the Minetta Lane Theater, and the two restaurants on the corner. While the theater may seem like a hot bed of tourists, it is considered “off-Broadway” and therefore less desirable than a Broadway show would be to someone visiting the city who wants to go home and brag to their friends.  The street is well-known for being private, secluded, and mainly residential. There is no representation of Minetta Lane as a location in a sitcom, rather one measly appearance on a home and garden channel.

While there was not a television sitcom show that was filmed on Minetta Lane, there is a popular music video that was shot there. It is called “Fire to the Ground” by The Forms featuring Matt Berninger. The video begins with a woman lying on the ground right outside of the blue apartment building, which is the corner of Minetta Lane and Minetta Street. The video features a well choreographed routine with all of the dancers wearing red, to symbolize the fire. The majority of the dancing in the video takes place right on the corner of Minetta Lane and Minetta Street, across from 16 Minetta Lane.

A screen-shot from the video Fire to the Ground, by the Forms

Bob Novogratz outside 16 Minetta Lane

The one show filmed on Minetta Lane was featured on the Home and Garden Television channel. The show is called Home by Novogratz, which revolves around the concept of a successful husband and wife interior design team that re-decorate and re-vamps different areas in New York City. This design couple essentially flips houses after giving them the full treatment—exterior and interior work. The location on the show is 16 Minetta Lane, formerly owned by event designer Robert Isabell. The townhouse was constructed in 1930 and boasts an enormous 2,800 square feet. The building is located right where the street signs for Minetta Lane and Minetta Street are. Today, the building blends into the background as a plain and unassuming ordinary white building. The previous owner, Isabell, was an eccentric man who was responsible for covering the windows with ivy, which used to cascade out towards the street (no longer there). As stated in Sadler and Haskins, “Architectural images have been often used to anchor messages;” to that end, the townhouse on 16 Minetta Lane portrays the street as an eclectic, artsy area. The greenery coming out of the windows is certainly unique and unconventional even in a city as diverse as New York.

Works Cited

1.http://thefutoncritic.com/news/2011/02/14/productionunderwayforhgtvshomebynovogratz19115/20110214hgtv01/

2.http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/01/28/rally_to_save_bowery_history_village_house_getting_novogratzd.php

3.http://ny.curbed.com/tags/16-minetta-lane

4.http://blog.hgtv.com/design/2011/09/10/home-by-novogratz-staging-a-townhouse-for-sale/

5.http://streeteasy.com/nyc/building/16-minetta-lane-manhattan

6. http://gothamist.com/2011/07/31/video_the_forms_fire_to_the_ground.php

7.  Sadler, WilliamJ., and Ekaterina V. Haskin. “Metonymy and the Metropolis: Television Show Settings and the Image of New York City.”

Photos: 1: Loopnet.com; 2: gothamist.com; 3: blog.hgtv.com

Heard on Minetta Lane   (11/16/11)

Looking down Minetta Street from Minetta Lane

In “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem” by Clare Corbould, the importance of sound in a neighborhood is examined. Corbould specifically focuses on Harlem, a melting pot for African-American culture. The area was known as “Little Africa” because “its sound reflected a primitive ‘rhythm of life,’ characteristic of those they deemed racially inferior.” The term “Little Africa” that was given to describe Harlem is quite interesting, as Minetta Lane is often referred by the same name. Although not geographically close, the two areas are related because they both share an important link in African American culture and history. Just like the constant sound of jazz in Harlem, Minetta Lane boasted many “black and tan” jazz clubs that were speakeasys back in the turn of the 20th century. Jazz was incredibly popular to the African American population on Minetta Lane, as well as the people living in Harlem, because it reflected their culture. Corbould says that Harlem was lower in the socioeconomic bracket, and Minetta Lane would be on par with that. It had an awful reputation, which included prostitution, violence, and high crime rates, until it was cleaned up during the 20th century. Jumping forward about 100 years, music continues to be a defining characteristic of Minetta Lane. While the Minetta Lane Theatre continues to be an incredible source of creativity, it is a song written about Minetta Lane that is the most impressive.

“Minetta Lane,” as sung by Tommy Page, is a slow ballad. This song is about former lovers who shared a special moment on Minetta Lane. They lyrics paint such a strong mental image you can almost picture yourself standing on Minetta Lane experiencing the singer’s feelings of yearning for his past love. The first stanza, which is also the chorus, sets the scene: “In the middle of the village / 
On a cold winter night /
The only street around /
With no one in sight /
I kissed you on your face
/ A tear drop came
/ There on Minetta lane.” This helps to orient the listener; if someone hearing this song has ever visited Minetta Lane, they would know the feelings of intimacy this street provides; it is possible (and happens frequently) to be the only person standing on Minetta Lane.

Tommy Page, "Minetta Lane," off of his self-titled album, 1988

The second stanza tells the story of love lost: “I remember it like it was only yesterday /
It’s so strange how time slips away
/ Been so long since we felt the flame
/ There on Minetta lane.” It seems that the singer and his significant other have been separated for some time now, but the memories seem so recent. The most important part comes towards the end: “Been so long since we felt the flame” is perhaps the most saddening part of the song. This sentiment alludes to the relationship the singer had, which could have possibly ended because someone fell out of love with the other.

            The last stanza explains what happened in the relationship: “Whatever happened to love sweet love
/ Did it fade away and die
/ My heart still cries for you, longs for you
/ This song’s for you
/ Wherever you are tonight.” Clearly the singer’s significant other was the one to fall out of love. Unfortunately, their partner was very much in love with them, and still is. This song is dedicated to the love lost, but also the memory they will treasure on Minetta Lane. Listening to the song conjures up images of a young couple, many years ago, walking down Minetta Lane after the sun has set during the winter. They can see the warmth of light coming from Minetta Tavern and the Theater beginning to come to life, but in their eyes, they are the only two people on the street.

The daily sounds of Minetta Lane are almost non-existent. While you can see the cabs speeding down 6th ave., you can barely hear the noise. This street is certainly a place where one can find solace and tranquility amidst the omnipresent noise of the city. The Minetta Lane Theatre, Minetta Tavern, and Cafe Wha are quiet during the day. The few pedestrians that walk down Minetta Lane have the ability to have a conversation free of  the usual soundtrack of the hustle and bustle of the city.

The role of sound and its effect on Minetta Lane is summed up perfectly in this song. I believe that this song was specifically written about Minetta Lane because there are not many places in New York City that have the same affordances of Minetta Lane. It is rare to hear traffic and the lack of pedestrian activity provides visitors with a calmness the rest of the city doesn’t have. This song is widely relatable for listeners;  heartbreak is universal.

Sources: Corbould, Clare. “Streets, Sounds and Identity in Interwar Harlem.”

http://www.youtube.com

http://www.lyricstime.com

Pictures: amazon.com;  windlit.blogspot.com

Digital Representation Of Minetta Lane (11/21/11)

Minetta Lane, the short street that runs through 6th Avenue and Bleeker, is not represented well in a digital context. As stated in Anne Galloway’s “Intimations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous computing and the City,” the importance of digital representation is to use technology to “make the invisible visible.” In this sense, it is important that Minetta Lane have importance on a map of Greenwich Village. This street is the perfect example of proving that statement not entirely valid. If the purpose of the map is to shed light on areas otherwise looked over, than shouldn’t Minetta Lane be more prominently featured? Google searches do not yield results that show a red star on a map, signaling Minetta Lane to the world. Instead, it returns only the little point on the regular Google Map feature, often pointing to the Theatre or Tavern. Furthermore, according to Galloway, the idea “is that by focusing our attention on these relations and flows, we may better understand the role of technologies in the spaitalization, temporalization and embodiment of everyday life.” Life on Minetta Lane is very repetitive. Either people are flocking to the Tavern or Theatre or they are simply passing through the street. The small number of commercial establishments provides the mainly residential street with the security that for the most part, they will not be bothered.

Dylan Thomas Walking Tour Map

One map with Minetta Lane is the Dylan Thomas Walking tour of Greenwich Village. The purpose of this tour is to “provide you with a strong sense of the real man behind the ‘brassy orator’ with the ‘lovely gift of the gab’ as well as giving you a feel for Greenwich Village of the 1950s.” Dylan Thomas was a famous Wesh poet who did a press tour in New York City during the early 1950s. One of the stops of the tour is Minetta Tavern, which Thomas frequented while he was in the city. There is even a caricature of his picture on the wall among all of the other great poets and writers.

The seating map of Minetta Lane Theatre is one of the results that is returned after a Google search. The seating map of the theatre has three orchestra sections, two mezzanine sections, standing room, and the stage. The current production in the theatre is “Standing on Ceremony” which runs through February 26th. This theatre seats almost 400 people; quite deceptive for its small façade outside

Seating Chart

Freedom Fighters in NYC

The article “Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore” by Kiri Miller is about the digital representations of specific areas in video games. Miller argues that “the game’s designers researched and reproduced the vernacular speech, clothing, music, and expressive aesthetic of a particular urban youth culture at a particular historical moment.” The video game that takes place in Greenwich village, Freedom Fighters, was released in 2003 for consoles such as Xbox, PlayStation2, and Nintendo GameCube. The premise of the game is to fight against the Soviet army who invade New York City during the World War II era, on the notion that it was the Soviet Union that dropped an atomic bomb on Berlin, thereby rewriting the end of WWII.

While Minetta Lane is not among one of the more well-known city streets of New York City, the people who are familiar with the area know its charm. It has been represented in various ways across different digital mediums. The walking map of the late poet, Dylan Thomas; the seating chart in the Theatre; and the video game all lend a different perspective with which to see the street and surrounding area.

Sources:

1: Galloway, Anne. “Intimations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous computing and the City.” Cultural Studies Vol. 18, No. 2/3. March/May 2004, pp 384-408.

2: http://www.dylanthomas.com/index.cfm?articleid=24133

3: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0382041/

4: Miller, Kiri.”Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore.” Journal of the American Folklore, 121 (481): 255-285. 2008.

Pictures: #1: http://www.dylanthomas.com; #2 http://www.ticketsinventory.com; #3: http://www.gamespot.com

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